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Ancient Stadium

Everything you need to know before visiting
the Panathenaic Stadium.

The ancient Panathenaic Stadium

The ancient stadium was constructed around 330 BC by the Athenian orator and politician Lycurgus in the hollow between the hills of Agra and Ardittos. The stadium was the place where the athletic games of the Great Panathenaeans were held. The shape of the stadium was rectangular with earthen sides and an entrance on the north side. This form of the stadium was preserved until the 2nd century AD.

During the era of Roman rule in Athens, the Stadium was renovated and rebuilt with white marble. The new form of the stadium is set in the context of the new era experienced by Athens, especially during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. At this time, the orator and sophist Herod Atticus, a citizen of great financial means, provided the money for the gradual re-modelling of the Stadium in the period 140-143 AD.

The new form of the stadium is horseshoe-shaped with maple and propylon, a typical shape of Roman stadiums, and the seats of the spectators on the slopes are made of marble from Pendelian marble. At the main entrance to the stadium, magnificent porticoes are built and the area is decorated with elaborate statues. Outside the stadium, a three-axis marble bridge is constructed, connecting the banks of the Ilisos River. Its reconstruction was completed in four years (140-143 AD). The capacity was 50,000 spectators. Herod Atticus’ beneficial work included other great works in Athens and other cities. The Panathenaic Stadium, however, was one of his greatest contributions. After his death, the Athenians honored him and buried him in their city on the site of the stadium’s elevation.

In the following years, with the prevalence of Christianity, the Stadium was abandoned along with the ancient festivals and games. Christianity changed the nature and use of the ancient playing fields and sacred places as well as their importance. During the subsequent centuries of the Byzantine era, the Middle Ages and the first centuries of the Ottoman Empire, there are no sources regarding the use of the Stadium. The history and splendour of the past is now a myth in the imagination of foreign travellers visiting Athens from the 17th to the 19th century and seeking the old glory of its monuments. Reports, descriptions and plans of the Stadium in this period are a prelude to future systematic efforts by European archaeologists and architects to restore it.

In the ensuing years, due to the prevalence of Christianity , the stadium was abandoned along with the ancient festivals and games. The decrees of the Emperor Theodosius II (426 AD and 435 AD) and Justinian in 529 AD banned everything related to the ancient Greek religion. Christianity changed the nature and use of ancient sites and shrines and their significance. The end of the ancient world came once and for all. During the following centuries in the Byzantine era and the Middle Ages there are no sources regarding the use of the stadium. The place and the landscape have been destroyed. The greater Ilysian area with the sanctuaries and the Ilisos is full of ruins of another era and new Christian churches. Along with it, the stadium has become skeletal  and was dismembered of the white Pentelic marble used as building material in later buildings. The stadium, although its form is recognisable, is indistinguishable, covered with earthen mounds, scattered buildings and cultivated fields. The history and splendour of the past is now a myth in the imagination of foreign travellers visiting Athens in search of the old glory of its monuments from the 17th to the 19th century. Reports, descriptions and plans of the stadium in this period are a prelude to the systematic efforts of European archaeologists and architects to restore it.

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